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With school and university exams already in full swing, many South African students and their parents are feeling a sharp spike in their stress and anxiety levels. Although stress and anxiety during exams are unavoidable, it is vital not to allow stress to get the better of you, as it can have a tremendously negative impact on your overall health and well-being. 

Managing your stress levels during such a stressful time may seem like an impossible task, but Dr Jothi Naidoo, psychiatrist at Netcare Alberlito Hospital says that there are some easy, healthy and cost-free ways of reducing stress while improving your quality of life. 

“Although a certain level of stress can be healthy, as it can motivate us to knuckle down and get the job done, exam stress can be counterproductive when it gets out of hand as it will prevent you from performing at your best,” says Dr Naidoo. “That is why you should always make sure that you find ways to reduce your stress and anxiety levels, particularly during exam-time,” she adds.

Dr Naidoo provides these handy tips for students on how best to reduce stress levels during crunch time: 

Exercise
“I cannot emphasise the importance of regular exercise enough. Engaging in regular physical activity releases endorphins, the body’s natural mood lifter, that will make you feel better in no time. It will also help to clear your mind and assist you to avoid the gloomy, repetitive cycle of eat-sleep-study,” says Dr Naidoo. 

Keep an eye on your diet 
“Just like a car’s engine, what you put in will affect your performance. You cannot expect your body to perform at its best if you do not give it the fuel that it needs. 

Ensure that you drink enough water, about two litres a day. Brain function and hydration are directly linked, meaning if your body is dehydrated, you will not be able to retain information as effectively nor will you be able to sleep properly. Lack of sleep and frustration due to not remembering your work will almost definitely lead to stress and anxiety,” Naidoo notes. 

“Also, remember to increase the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables you eat to allow your body to get the vitamins and minerals it requires to function properly. You can even consider asking your local medical practitioner about a vitamin supplement that you can take during exam time.” 

“Eat regularly to keep your glucose levels steady and avoid quick, junk snacks like potato chips, sweets or chocolates. Never drink energy drinks as they contain immense amounts of caffeine and sugar that will put strain on your heart and will cause your insulin levels to spike,” she adds.

Talk about it
“This might seem like a cliché, but talking to your friends and family about the stress and anxiety you are experiencing could help to build your self-confidence and make you feel more relaxed and supported, which in turn will reduce your stress and anxiety levels. The social interaction will also take your mind off studying and exams for a while, giving you the break that you deserve,” says Dr Naidoo. 

Plan your study schedule
“You can set your mind at ease by planning your study schedule well in advance. Begin revising early, even before the exams are announced, by reading through your class notes each day to make sure you understand them. This will make it easier to absorb and retain information when you start studying for exams. 

The area in which you are planning to study must be a quiet, well lit and well ventilated. If you study in an area that is filled with distractions, you will struggle to memorise information adequately which will lead to frustration and stress,” Dr Naidoo notes. 

She also says that it is important to make sure that your study schedule allows time for relaxation, fun and socialising. “By balancing your study times and relaxation times, you will be better able to get through all your work without strain or stress,” she adds. 

Naidoo concludes by warning against exam ‘post-mortem’ and encouraging South African students who are currently writing exams to stay positive and stress-free.  

“Exam ‘post-mortem’ is when you and your friends discuss the paper and compare answers after having written it. Many people experience extreme stress and anxiety when they realise that they answered a question incorrectly or that their answers do not match up with those of their friends,” says Dr Naidoo. “Avoid these conversations as far as possible as they may only upset you. You cannot go back and change your answers, so there is no point in worrying about it,” she adds.   

“Remember, an exam is only temporary and life continues long after the exam is over. Things might seem very intense at the moment, but if keep your goals in sight, stay motivated and look after your health and wellbeing, you will be able to perform at your best and get the results you deserve.”